Volume 12, July 2021
Soave armonia or brummende Violone? Let's talk bass . . . When is a bass not a double bass?1

by Joëlle Morton, University of Toronto


1 I am very grateful to Paul Ellison for inspiring this article. Approx. 25 years ago, he told me he had been given the bass part to Orfeo (Kings Music, Clifford Bartlett) and wanted to know 'what he should play.' The part provided him almost all of the bass lines, except for the solo recitatives. The choro sections were marked for 5 voices in the original publication, not indicating if a contrabasso was suggested/required and never indicating what 'contrabasso' might mean, in any case. Paul paid me to research the piece for him asking for instruction on what was appropriate for him to play. I have always meant to write about this subject formally, and now is the time. To my delight, I find that my friend/colleague Peter McCarthy has since published a number of articles about the 'double bass' in Monteverdi. Rather than duplicate his efforts, I have chosen to expand on the basic subject, with immense thanks to all.

2 P. McCarthy. 'Note for Composers,' London, 2017.

3 M. Corrette. Methode, Théorique et Pratique pour Apprendre en peu de tems le Violoncelle dans sa Perfection. Paris, 1741.

4 S. Pollens. 'Some Misconceptions about the Baroque Violin.' Performance Practice Review. Vol. 14, #1, 2009, p6.

5 J. Morton. 'The Early History and Use of the G Violone.' VdGSA Vol. 36 (1999).

6 M. Praetorius. Syntagma Musicum II, translated by David Crookes. Clarendon Press, 1986, p54.

7 M. Peruffo. 'Italian Violin Strings in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Typologies, Manufacturing Techniques and Principles of Stringing.' aquilacorde.com (2004). p1-34.

8 S. Bonta. 'From Violone to Violoncello: A Question of Strings?' JAMIS, 3 (1977)

9 J. Spitzer and N. Zaslaw. The Birth of the Orchestra: History of an Institution, 1650-1815. Oxford University Press, 2004, p139.

10 http://www.lombardiabeniculturali.it/opere-arte/schede/MN020-00091/

11 Letter by Carlo Magni, about the premiere, P. Fabbri, translated by T. Carter. Monteverdi. Cambridge University Press, 2006, p65.

12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teatro_Santi_Giovanni_e_Paolo

13 G. Dixon. CD liner notes for Monteverdi's Vespers for the Feast of Santa Barbara, Hyperion, 1997

14 P. McCarthy. 'Why are we still using a double bass string instrument in Monteverdi's Vespers?' VdGS/GB The Viol newsletter, #51m summer 2018.

15 https://www.antegnatisantabarbara.it/en/organ-antegnati.asp

16 "Moreover he says that he can also play the viola da gamba and [viola] da brazzo." The New Monteverdi Companion, trans. Denis Stevens, Faber and Faber, 1985, p28.

17 G.C. Monteverdi "Dichiaratione della lettera stampata nel Quinto libro de suoi Madrigali.' Published at the back of Claudio Monteverdi's Scherzi Musicali, Venice, 1607.

18 J. Morton. "Will wonders never cease? The viola bastarda at the Ferrarese court.", forthcoming EM, 2021

19 The New Monteverdi Companion, op. cit., p21

20 Monteverdi's fourth book of madrigals was dedicated to the Accademia in 1603.

21 P. McCarthy. "Claudio Monteverdi's contrabasso da gamba." Early Music Review, ed. Clifford Bartlett, n.d..

22 All of the works by Monteverdi discussed in this article are readily available in facsimile edition, on www.imslp.org.

23 For those who are counting, yes, this adds up to more than 9 players! However, '9' is the number Monteverdi uses consistently, in all the part books.

24 N. Zaslaw. "When is an Orchestra not an Orchestra?" Early Music, Vol. XVI, #4 (1988), p.487.

25 Spitzer/Zaslaw, Birth, op. cit., p20.

26 M. Vanscheeuwijck. "Violoncello and other Bass Violins in Baroque Italy." In Gli esordi del violoncello, ed. D. Fabris. Cafagna Editore, 2020.

27 M. Greenberg. "Perfecting the Storm: The Rise of the Double Bass in France, 1701-1815." OJBR, Vol. 1, 2003.

28 B. Hoffmann. I bassi d'arco di Antonio Vivaldi. Leo. S. Olschki, 2020, p561.

29 The facsimile is available at https://ks4.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/c/ce/IMSLP564129-PMLP366522-Vivaldi_-_Juditha_Triumphans,_RV_644_-autograph-.pdf

30 B. Hoffmann, op. cit., p199-247.

31 H. Miller Lardin. "'The notes the Double-Bass should play'. Corrette, Continuo, and the problem of double bass reduction." JVdGS (GB), Vol. 12 (2018).

32 D. Chapman. "The Sixteen-Foot Violone in Concerted Music of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Issues of Terminology and Function." Eighteenth Century Music, Vol. 12, #1, 2015.

33 J. J. Prinner, Musicalischer Schlissel. manuscript, Salzburg?, 1677 and 'The Talbot Manuscript,' c. 1694, Oxford, Christ Church Library Ms. 1187.

34 Described by C. Rosen, in Ch. 12 "The Benefits of Authenticity," Critical Entertainments: Music Old and New. Harvard University Press, 2000.